Egypt: New crackdown on Mahalla workers

A report posted from a libcom user in Egypt concerning repression following the recent wave of strikes there.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 16, 2007

I just received a text (at 9.35 am) from a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Organization (Trotskyists) saying that state security have besieged the workers in Mahalla preventing them from going to Cairo. The workers started a strike immediately protesting security intimidation. Ghazl Shebeen workers have declared their solidarity and is threatening to launch a new strike.

A 100-strong delegation from the Mahalla textile workers were supposed to come to Cairo today 10 am today to meet with the head of the General Federation of Trade Unions for negotiations over the workers' January demands. This was to include improvement of workers' conditions and impeachment of their factory union committee (which repeatedly took the side of the bosses during the strike in December). The Mahalla workers were threatening a sit-in and strike if their demands were not met.

This crackdown comes in the wake of the Ministry of Social Affairs officials, in the company of State Security agents, shut down the Center of Trade Union and Workers’ Services branch in Mahalla, on Wednesday. A delegation of Mahalla workers were going to go to the offices of the Ministry of Social Affairs to protest this.

No surprises
It is not a surprise that the regime is now cracking down. Historically the regimes' response to strikes have been a combination of (first) concession and (then) repression. This typically meant that demands about wages and bonuses have been met to defuse strikes and then after awhile the state security would arrest "ringleaders" and make sure that there would be no new strikes. It has only been a question of time as to when the regime would start cracking down on the Mahalla workers, and though they've continuously been harassed by state security since the December strike, the recent closure of the CTUWS offices in Mahalla and the siege today signal something new.

Growing unrest
The regime probably had to do something now. According to al-Masr el-Yom there were about 220, mostly wildcat, strikes in Egypt in 2006. Central security is now cracking down on all forms of dissent; the Muslim Brotherhood, the liberal Hizb al-Ghad (Tomorrow Party), the eclectic protest movement Kefaya (Enough!) and the increasingly influential blogosphere.

'Egyptian Patriot Act'
A few weeks ago the National Democratic Party's (the Mubarak party) constitutional amendments were passed in a rigged referendum. Protests against these amendments were met with heavy repression. The amendments include further privatization of Egypt's economy, feudalization of the country side, setting up Gamal Mubarak as the next president and incorporated the 25 year old state of emergency into the legal system (in essence an Egyptian Patriot Act).

The details of what has happened today is still sketchy and some facts are unconfirmed. I just heard that two sections of the Mahalla factory has been closed and the machines have been stopped. The strike there does not (yet) include all the workers.

I'll try to give updates on what's going on as soon as I get new info. If a solidarity delegation is going to Mahalla I will join them.

Original forum thread

Some background on the Egyptian strikes:
Egypt: Strikes Continue despite clampdown

Egyptian Textile Workers Confront the New Economic Order

Egyptian Textile Worker Strike: The Story Behind the Story

Arabawy is probably the best English language source on the recent strikes in Egypt.